David Ragan

Hendrick Motorsports

Retro Rundown 2019: Paint schemes for Southern 500

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We’re now under two weeks from the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 on NBCSN), which will mark the fifth year of NASCAR’s official Throwback Weekend.

Here’s your guide to the retro paint schemes that have been announced so far for the weekend, including schemes for the Aug. 31 Xfinity Series race.

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford – The Team Penske driver will race Rusty Wallace’s 1996 Cup Series scheme.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet – Dillon will boast a paint scheme that was driven by his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress in the late 1970s.

Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford – With Oscar Mayer taking the place of Valvoline, Newman’s car will take its cue from the scheme Mark Martin raced in 1993, when he earned Roush Fenway Racing’s first Southern 500 victory.

Via Roush Fenway Racing

Daniel Hemric, No. 8 Chevrolet – Hemric will drive a car inspired by the design of CAT equipment and the logo used on them from its launch in 1925 until 1931.

Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet – Elliott will boast the scheme his father, Bill Elliott, claimed his first Cup pole with in 1981 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota – Hamlin’s car will evoke Darrell Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from the 1990s.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have a scheme inspired by Michael Waltrip’s Pennzoil car from 1991-95.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota – Busch will pilot a Snickers-sponsored car based on Bobby Hillin’s 1990 No. 8 Snickers scheme.

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to himself with the Bass Pro Shops paint scheme he drove during his 2004 Xfinity Series championship campaign. That year he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports.

Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota – To mark his 100th Cup Series start, Jones will boast a scheme based on his rookie late model car.

Paul Menard, No. 21 Ford – Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to late team founder Glen Wood with the paint scheme Wood drove himself in 1957, including in his only appearance as a driver at Darlington.

William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet – Byron will drive one of Cole Trickle’s paint schemes from the 1990 Tom Cruise movie “Days of Thunder.”

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford – GoFas Racing’s car will be based on Dale Jarrett’s 1990-91 Nestle Crunch sponsored Xfinity car.

Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will have a paint scheme that pays homage to the career of long-time owner and driver Jimmy Means, who was once partnered with FRM owner Bob Jenkins.

Front Row Motorsports

David Ragan, No. 38 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will drive a scheme inspired by David Pearson’s 1969 championship car.

Screenshot

Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet – Wallace’s car will be a tribute to the late Adam Petty and his 1998 ARCA win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Richard Petty Motorsports

Ryan Preece, No. 47 Chevrolet – Preece will have a tribute to modified racing legend Ron Bouchard. The scheme is based on the No. 47 Majik Market/Hawaiian Punch car Bouchard drove at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 1984.

Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet – The car is inspired by one that Burt Reynolds’ character raced in the movie “Stroker Ace.”

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet – Bowman’s Axalta-sponsored car is inspired by Tim Richmond‘s Folger’s Coffee scheme from 1986-87.

Stewart-Haas Racing – In celebration of co-owner Tony Stewart’s election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three SHR drivers will have paint schemes based on the cars Stewart raced to his three Cup Series titles. Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford will be based on Stewart’s 2002 car, Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford will be based on the 2005 season and Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford will look like the car Stewart drove to his 2011 title.

Xfinity Series

Cole Custer, No. 00 Ford – The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will have a throwback to Buckshot Jones’ 1997 Xfinity Series car.

Michael Annett, No. 1 Chevrolet – The JR Motorsports driver will channel Jeff Gordon circa the 1992 Xfinity Series season with Gordon’s Baby Ruth paint scheme when he drove for Bill Davis Racing.

Via JR Motorsports

BJ McLeod, No. 4 Chevrolet – McLeod’s car is designed after the No. 44 Slim Jim car Bobby Labonte drove in the Xfinity Series in 1992.

Justin Allgaier, No. 7 Chevrolet – Allgaier’s scheme will be based on the No. 90 Truxmore Chevrolet Ricky Rudd drove in the 1979 season.

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet – Earnhardt will pilot the scheme his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove in his first Cup start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley, No. 11 Chevrolet – Kaulig Racing will boast Jeff Burton’s 1994 rookie Cup paint scheme with matching sponsorship from brake parts company Raybestos. It also serves as a tribute to team owner Matt Kaulig’s father and team chief financial officer, Bob Kaulig, who served as a vice president of Raybestos from 1985-2008.

Via Kaulig Racing

Denny Hamlin, No. 18 Toyota – Hamlin will have a scheme based on Bill Elliott’s No. 11 Budweiser car.

Joey Gase, No. 35 Toyota – Gase’s throwback is based on the 1997 Tabasco paint scheme raced by Todd Bodine.

Jeremy Clements, No. 51 Chevrolet – Like William Byron, Clements will pilot a “Days of Thunder” paint scheme. He’ll be using Rowdy Burns’ No. 51 Exxon scheme.

Brandon Brown, No. 86 Chevrolet – Brown’s scheme is inspired by Terry Labonte’s 1993 Kellogg’s Cornflakes scheme.

Chase Briscoe, No. 98 Ford – Briscoe will pilot a scheme based on the No. 98 Ford Parnelli Jones won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 with.

Stewart-Haas Racing

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Ryan: Where could Matt DiBenedetto be heading next season in Cup?

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – The audition essentially is over for Matt DiBenedetto, who again proved Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway that he is worthy of keeping a ride in NASCAR’s premier series.

Do withering auditions now begin for scads of other drivers whom DiBenedetto has outperformed for two months (his runner-up finish after leading a race-high 93 laps is his third top five and fifth top 10 in nine races)?

As NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said during the NBCSN broadcast (and has said before), “I can give you a list of drivers who should be scared to death of Matty D. because he deserves their seats.”

There could be team owners feeling some heat, too, by remaining complacent. Bristol winner Denny Hamlin said on the NBCSN postrace interview in victory lane, “all you car owners are idiots” if DiBenedetto didn’t land a Cup ride in 2020.

“There’s many car owners that finance cars that are on the racetrack, good teams,” Hamlin said later in his media center interview. “They got to step up and grow some balls and take a chance on somebody they really believe in. That or they can continue to run 15th.”

Hamiln said numerous times that there is “no doubt in my mind” that DiBenedetto will land “better even than he is right now.”

The question is where, and the chattering classes of NASCAR were in overdrive this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, trying to chart how the annual parade of driver movement will unfold (after it began in earnest last week later than normal).

A few important parameters:

–While contracts are important, they can vary as to how ironclad they are because of results clauses and options. DiBenedetto originally was announced as having a two-year deal last October with Leavine Family Racing, but the team actually had to approve his renewal. A driver can be “set” for next season and still be removed.

–The possibility always exists that a team with fewer than four drivers could add a car for DiBenedetto, but the reality is highly unlikely anyone would.

–Before being informed Aug 13 that he wouldn’t be returning to LFR, DiBenedetto said he hadn’t talked to any other teams about 2020.

Here’s everything we seem to know about the status of major rides next year, in a team-by-team analysis:

–Chip Ganassi Racing: Kyle Larson is under contract through next season. Kurt Busch, who has had Monster sponsorship the past five seasons, said Friday at Bristol that he still isn’t set for next year. That could open a slot in the No. 1, but Ross Chastain is believed to remain under contract with Ganassi and probably would be the first option if Busch were to leave.

Front Row Motorsports: The full-time retirement of David Ragan opens a ride here that Front Row intends to fill, but Ross Chastain would be high on this team’s list for the No. 38 Ford, and Corey LaJoie also has been mentioned as a possibility. Michael McDowell and Matt Tifft are believed to be returning to the team.

–GoFas Racing: LaJoie is putting up solid numbers while emerging as a breakout personality, and that could draw attention and opportunities from other teams. DiBenedetto remains friendly with many on this team from his 2017-18 stint.

–Hendrick Motorsports: Jimmie Johnson (contract through 2020), Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman (pending sponsorship finalization) all are solid for next year

–Joe Gibbs Racing: Clearly no room here with all four drivers seemingly set for next season.

JTG Daugherty Racing: Ryan Preece said Friday his deal with the team is beyond 2019. Chris Buescher was announced in August 2017 as having signed a multiyear deal. The team has ended its deals before the end of a term before, though, with A.J. Allmendinger leaving after last season despite two years remaining on an extension he signed in 2015.

Leavine Family Racing: This isn’t an option for next year with the expected arrival of Christopher Bell.

But thanks to the trigger-happy Twitter thumbs of team owner Bob Leavine, it’s known that a scenario has been discussed in which DiBenedetto could spend a season in Xfinity before returning to Cup in 2021 (when the Gen 7 car is expected to make its debut). DiBenedetto has been careful to avoid burning any bridges (he immediately thanked LFR and its team members in postrace interviews).

-Richard Childress Racing: Daniel Hemric’s contract with the team is through 2020, but he has sent signals he isn’t certain of being kept (Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick will need a Cup ride to stay at RCR). Austin Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress, is set.

Richard Petty Motorsports: Bubba Wallace was signed to a multiyear deal last year and has indicated he will return in 2020.

Roush Fenway Racing: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recently reaffirmed that he has a contract through 2021, and the team would seem very happy with Ryan Newman taking the No. 6 to the playoffs in his first season.

Stewart-Haas Racing: Kevin Harvick is set beyond this season (and probably as long as he wants to drive the No. 4). Aric Almirola came with sponsor Smithfield to SHR last year and is good through 2020. Clint Bowyer is in a contract year and while indications have been positive about his return, sponsorship on his No. 14 has been difficult, and an extension likely would include a pay cut similar to many other veterans in his class. Daniel Suarez is in his first season at SHR and said last Friday that he and the team both have options for remaining together in 2020 “but everything is looking pretty good” for remaining in the No. 41.

Team Penske: Its trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney is firm.

–Wood Brothers Racing: Paul Menard recently said he expects to be back in the No. 21 Ford next year.


In taking on Bell as its No. 95 driver next year, LFR will function much more like a de-facto fifth Joe Gibbs Racing car in a stronger alliance resembling what Furniture Row Racing had with JGR.

LFR switched to Toyota this season but was running a 2018 chassis Saturday, according to crew chief Mike Wheeler, who also said as “JGR learns stuff, we get upgrades.” Based on how well DiBenedetto ran at Bristol, where he led final Cup practice, qualified seventh and finished second, there was some speculation that the team might have received a full-fledged JGR-prepared Camry at Bristol.

“There’s a misconception out there about it being a JGR primary car,” Wheeler said. “It is a generation behind, but it’s good. If you put a good setup and good driver in it, it can go fast, and you saw that tonight.”


As difficult as Saturday night’s finish was for Denny Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto, it was just as gutting for Mike Wheeler, who had to watch as his current driver got beat by the driver whom he guided as the No. 11 crew chief from 2016-18 before being transferred to LFR by JGR.

Though it isn’t expected that Wheeler will remain as the No. 95 crew chief next year (Bell has spoken highly of his Xfinity crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, who previously won with Matt Kenseth in Cup), Gibbs said Wheeler was under long-term contract to the team. “We all love Wheels,” Gibbs said. “He’s been a very key part to our organization. Then when he moved over to the 95, he’s just done an outstanding job over there.”

Wheeler told reporters he “definitely needed a moment to compose myself” after Saturday’s finish (as captured in this photo by Dustin Long).

“If you told us we’d ran second before we got here, but to lead the whole last stint and come up short, that was disappointing,” he said. “It’s like gosh. I don’t know why things happen to me like that. But it makes you a better person I guess in the future.”


In making the switch to 18-inch tires with the Gen 7 car, NASCAR also is considering the use of a single lug nut to secure wheels. That would be another step toward bringing NASCAR in line with IndyCar, whose common chassis by Dallara has been pushed by team owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi (whose teams compete in both series) as a model for the Gen 7 on cost-savings components.

The move to a single lugnut (from the current five-lugnut wheel) could be viewed as a safety enhancement by greatly reducing the possibility of loose wheels, but it also would overhaul the dynamics of pit stops and likely de-emphasize the importance of tire changers.


Brad Keselowski long has been sensitive to how private aviation in NASCAR is perceived by a fan base that formed its bonds with stars through workingman’s roots. The Team Penske driver once banned news media that traveled with him from taking photos or video aboard his plane.

In the wake of the crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plane last week, Keselowski made another impassioned and well-reasoned defense of flying in NASCAR – particularly in the case of Bristol, which is about a three-hour drive from the Charlotte area homes of many drivers.

“It’s work-life balance,” said Keselowski, who flew into the same airport Friday morning where Earnhardt’s plane crashed the previous afternoon. “That’s the reality of it. We’re trying to be dads and be husbands. And try to leverage the privileges we have to do just that. That’s probably the easiest way I can answer it.

“My staying home (Thursday) night, I got to have dinner with my daughter. Her grandparents got to come over. That’s a big deal. I don’t get many nights like that. Michigan week, I wasn’t home at all and didn’t spend any time with my family. I look through the pictures of my daughter when she’s growing up, and it’s, ‘Oh my God, how did my daughter turn 4 years old?’ It happened like that, and it happened while I was at races in Michigan and gone all week And when I have a week like this where we can make the most of it, we’re going to try like hell to make the most of it. We were able to do that because of private aviation.

“I understand that most people might not get that concept, but most people aren’t in the situation we’re in as race car drivers that travel every week. We don’t get to skip a week. We’re not like LeBron James where we get to sit on the bench or stay home for a week or whatever it is from other sports. This is 38 weeks, and they will run the race without you. And your ass will get fired if you don’t show up. So that’s really hard to explain to people. And it’s very hard to explain to your wife and daughter when you miss something that’s really special to them. Private aviation is a great way to try to fill those gaps. And we might get a black eye because of that, but it’s something that I’m really passionate about and very thankful for.”


Facing the likelihood that he will miss the Cup playoffs for the first time in 16 years, Jimmie Johnson said Friday that failing to qualify for championship eligibility would change his goal from grinding out points to advance through rounds to focusing exclusively on getting a win with new crew chief Cliff Daniels.

The seven-time champion also would need to begin considering whether the 2020 season would be his last. In the instances of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., that decision was made months (or in Stewart’s case, more than a year) ahead of the final race. Despite his current slump, Johnson seems inclined to keep racing because “our team is getting so good, so strong” but also recognizes foresight on exit strategy is necessary.

“I know for the team, sponsor and for (team owner) Rick (Hendrick), following some sort of timeline would be best for them,” said Johnson, who turns 44 next month. “Like Jeff did and some just decide to walk away, some want a year, others want half a year. I fortunately have not put any thought into that. My commitment is still the team. I’m sure I’ll be pressed for a decision at some point, but I’m not really ready to make that decision. I love what I’m doing being on the track. If I had to pick right now, I’d sign on for more years.”

Johnson added that new primary sponsor Ally seems more focused on branding and name recognition than on-track results.


Besides some unfortunate mainstream publicity, the controversy over the removal of Slayer as the sponsor of a Rick Ware Racing car again underscored the mixed messages that the entangling alliances of sponsorship often tend to breed in NASCAR. RWR released a statement that the band’s “brand image and beliefs” did not align with the team and its longtime partners – though it probably would be more than welcome in many other corners of stock-car racing.

Slayer is one of the progenitors of death metal, a genre that is popular among the ranks of up and coming youth in NASCAR. Longtime Megadeth fan Tyler Reddick had the band on his Xfinity car at New Hampshire last month. Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney have noodled around as a death metal duo in social media clips and have posted videos from concerts.

The mainstream headlines last week, though (driven in part by the team’s 11th-hour cancellation), were “NASCAR says no to death metal band,” which doesn’t really help a series desperately trying to be as inclusive and universally appealing as possible in order to build audience. Sponsorship choices are made individually by teams, tracks and the sanctioning body, but their negative ramifications often can be felt across the board.


There’s another Cup alliance being considered in the Ford camp. Stewart-Haas Racing has discussed the possibility of offloading many of its cars to GoFas Racing in anticipation of its four-car fleet having a lot of extra inventory next season as it moves to the Gen 7car. It’s uncertain if the arrangement also might include technical support.

Racing chassis that are a few years old, Corey LaJoie is 29th in points with the No. 32, a spot higher than it was ranked with Matt DiBenedetto through 24 races last year.


Saturday night’s crowd at Bristol undoubtedly was better than April, but there’s been some debate over how much of the grandstands filled in after there were significant pockets at the green flag (which seemed to mostly disappear in photos of a gorgeous dusk at the track).

There is a simple way to resolve this, of course: If more auto racing tracks would release attendance, like virtually any other professional sport. The longtime excuse is that Cup tracks owned by publicly held companies don’t provide crowd numbers because they don’t want to provide “earnings guidance.”

With ISC and SMI on the cusp of being taken private and no longer required to report earnings, it would be a welcome end to the policy so that officially provided attendance figures could be used to comparatively demonstrate when a NASCAR crowd is truly a success story.

Dustin Long contributed to this report

What drivers said after Bristol Night Race

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Denny Hamlin – winner: “It feels good. My first reaction was I was sorry to Matt (DiBenedetto). I know those guys really wanted to win and Matt deserves a win, but –  I’m watching him do an interview, I get emotional for him. Just hate it that I had to take it from him. … (What does it say about your team that you bounced back from early damage from contact and rallied to win?) It means a lot. It’s emotional in a lot of reasons. … (DiBenedetto) was good. I knew it was something – that car, it was probably a setup that I ran last year. I know Mike Wheeler has a great set up for this place and Matt was just doing a phenomenal job. That’s all you can say. He’s just a hell of a racecar driver. He’s going to land on his feet in a better ride than he’s got now.

“(Is your team on a roll?) Absolutely. It’s on a roll like I’ve never seen before. It hasn’t been this good in a long time. … (About the battle with DiBenedetto?) I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, (crew chief) Mike Wheeler. I hate it. I mean, I know a win would mean a lot to that team.  I have to give it 110% for FedEx and my whole team.  Just sorry. Proud of this whole FedEx team for giving me a great car, pit crew, crew chief, everybody doing an amazing job.  Jordan, all the girls at home.  Just the whole team is just doing an amazing job right now.  They’re just kicking ass.

“(How did you chase DiBenedetto down?) Between my spotter and the crew chief, just stayed on me to not get anxious, just kind of take my time. I had plenty of time. I just worked him over, worked him over. I knew I didn’t want to show him the bottom until I knew I could make the pass. I ran the top, ran the top, ran the top, got the position on the bottom and finished it. We had a great car that could move around.  Came back from a couple laps down and here we are.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished second: “I don’t even know what to say. I’m so sad we didn’t win, but proud, proud of the effort. I got tight there from the damage from trying to get by (Ryan) Newman and that immediately flipped a switch and got tight. Man, this opportunity has been – that’s what I want everybody to know, how thankful I am that I got this opportunity and to work with great people like (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler), my crew chief. I am so thankful everyone on this team gave me this opportunity – all of our sponsors, ProCore, Dumont Jet, Anest Iwata spray equipment, Toyota for backing me this year, everybody at Leavine Family Racing. I want to try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week and I want to stick around and I want to win. That’s all I want to do is win in the Cup Series and we were close. It’s so hard to be that close, but it’s neat to race door-to-door with Denny Hamlin, someone who I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid.  It’s amazing. Great day, but this one is going to hurt for sure.

“(What is going through your head right now?) I don’t know. So much. I wanted to win so bad for these guys, for this team, for them giving me this opportunity. I’m just thankful that they gave me this opportunity, Toyota, Procore, Dumont Jets. I’m so thankful. But, man, I’m sad. We got tight after the deal with (Ryan) Newman when he came up into us. All of a sudden it got really tight after that. Congrats to Denny (Hamlin). He raced hard. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. To be racing door-to-door with him at Bristol, in front of a great group of fans – I’ll try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week. I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come. I love it. I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet. Something will come open. It’s going to happen. I’m here to win. Something’s going to come open. I’m proud of these guys. Thankful for my wife and fans for sticking with me. It’s been a tough journey, a hard week. Cool for this team.”

Brad Keselowski – finished third: “My nose without a hole in it would have been really good, but it was a decent finish for us nonetheless.  We led a lot of laps and that’s something to be proud of. … (What did you need to contend?) We seemed to fall off a little bit on the long run and then got in the back of some lap traffic and put a hole in the nose, and that knocked a little bit of speed out of it. That’s all she wrote for us. … (Was it hard to pass?) No more than usual Bristol.  It’s just the way the cars are around you. … (Are you disappointed?) We had a shot at winning. We probably weren’t good enough on the long runs to just dominate, but on the short and medium runs we were. I got a hole in the nose there late and that kind of ruined our day.”

Kyle Busch – finished fourth: “I was just too loose at the end. The car just wasn’t there really all weekend long. I  just never really found what I was looking for. We were kind of all over the place. Early on, we were so loose that I was just barely hanging on and trying to make up time there. We finally got it tightened up enough there when I was racing with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and got the lead from the 2 before that caution came out. Then we tried to make it a little bit better for exit after that because we were going to go a long ways on tires we figured and just made it too loose. I just had no rear traction getting into the corner. We salvaged a hard-fought day for fourth. That’s about it.

“(What does it say to come back from being a lap down and finishing as strong as you did?)  “It’s better than some other situations for sure. Obviously Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys do a really good job of being able to work on the car and constantly improve it and constantly make it better, but flat out getting our ass kicked right now by our teammates, so we’ve got to get better.”

Chase Elliott – finished fifth: “I thought we were just off a little bit off all night. All weekend we just needed a little bit. I felt like we were really close. We just never got over the hill. But our Hooters Spirits team did a good job. Heck, they executed a great race. I think we gained spots on pit road every time we came; like more than one spot, too. So, they did a great job. Alan (Gustafson) called a great race. I lined-up in the top multiple times. You can’t really ask for anything else. From a driver’s standpoint, I just didn’t do a very good job with it. I seemed to be a little bit better than these guys. I felt like the past Spring race and this race, we’ve been off just a touch. We’ve got to go to work.”

Kyle Larson – finished sixth: “It was difficult to pass. I think we could have had a good run for the win there, but we had some left front damage on the second to last stop that we made. As soon as I turned into my stall, the 20 was going to put his right front on and I clipped him. It pushed our left front fender in and then we had to come down and repair it the next pit stop. If we didn’t have to do that, we would have restarted sixth, which would have been really nice for that last big run there. I felt like my car was really good on the long runs. We could have given it a run for the win, but we ended up coming home sixth. We were probably the third-best car there at the end. … All-in-all, a really good day again. It was a solid points day and we jumped up a couple of spots in points. Hopefully we can get to 10th at least when the Playoffs get started. We’ll see. But, I’m happy with our day. The Credit One Bank Chevy was good, just not good enough early in the run.

“(You are building consistency for the playoffs, aren’t you?) Yeah, no doubt. We’ve been quietly building momentum and speed and have had a lot of good runs here recently. We’ve just got to keep it going here in these next couple of races and get in the Playoffs and carry it on through that. (How disappointed are you for not winning tonight?) You are disappointed that you didn’t win, but for Bristol, I felt like this was one was uneventful for us other than the minor fender damage. It was cool to not have to fight leaders off from going a lap down, miss wrecks and things like that. We had a good car, too. I felt like I could run the bottom really well. We were just too loose all race long to be really aggressive on the short runs. It maybe benefitted me for the long runs.”

Clint Bowyer – finished seventh: “We had a good race.  We were too loose.  I needed more rear grip all night long.  That’s probably the loosest I’ve ever been here.  We kind of fought front turn all weekend long and was trying to make up for it with wedge out and track bar up – stuff like that – and it just hurts rear grip.  I mean, all in all, it was a good weekend for us.  It was kind of a rebound weekend and what we needed, but you can’t expect those guys to just lay over for you.  We did all we could do.  I was hoping to be a top five car and when you’re a top five car here you’ve got a chance to win, but were just a beat off of that all night.

“(It looked like your night could have been a lot worse?) Yeah, but it could have been a lot better.  It’s short track racing.  You’re making split-decisions.  I was trying to pass those two cars and get some more stage points for us and I clipped him.  It wasn’t nothing he did, I was just trying to shoot the gap and I had a run on those guys and trying to do all I could do.

“(Your thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto’s race?) I hate that for that guy. He’s racing for a job and everything else. You know those Gibbs cars are fast. You knew he was gonna have a rocket and he did. Man, that last run those cars took off like crazy. I was just too loose to go with them.”

Daniel Suarez – finished eighth: “The racing was fun.  All in all it was a pretty solid day for the 41 Ford Mustang Haas Automation.  I feel like we had a top 10 car the entire weekend and that’s pretty much where we ran.  We had some ups and downs on pit road and had some mistakes there as well as some electrical issues that I feel like we’re lucky we were able to continue to finish the race with the battery, but overall I’m proud of my team.  Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going in the next few weeks. … (How big was it to get those stage points tonight?) I feel like that was probably the biggest thing of the day.  I feel like that was an amazing call from my crew chief Billy Scott and I’m proud of that call.  We have to just keep making those decisions. … It was a positive weekend.  I wish we could have finished a little bit better, probably in the top five or so, but for whatever reason we’re strong but we’re not super-strong.  We’re a top 10 car and that’s where we ended.

“(Your thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto’s performance?) He did an amazing job.  I feel like he deserved the win, but you never know how things are gonna work out.  I feel like I have to do my race and let everything else play out by itself.  I can’t control that, but I will tell you that I wish in a way I’m kind of lucky that he didn’t win, but I wish he would have won the race because he’s an amazing driver.  He deserves that ride and he’s been doing a very good job this year.”

Kurt Busch – finished ninth: “We just weren’t quite there all night. I think we had a nice sequence to get a stage win, but just tight center out. We just didn’t have the mojo all weekend. The first few laps in practice, I was like man I have to get this rotation to help turn center out. We just didn’t get it done. … (Were you rooting for a late caution?) It wouldn’t have helped us much.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 10th: (Did you see DiBenedetto leading near the end of the race?) “We were getting lapped there at the end and I was like, ‘Who is leading?’ And they said, ‘The 95 and the 11 is right there.’  I’m like, ‘No way, man.’ The 11 just got by him. That’s tough. That would have been a pretty cool story.  He just announced that he’s not gonna be in that car next year and I think he does a great job.  He really drove for that one.  It stinks he couldn’t get it done, but he’s a great driver.  I hope he lands somewhere good.

“(What was the racing like?) Typical Bristol, I thought.  I thought the bottom was gonna be a little bit more competitive.  A little bit later in the race when the top kind of was dominant I got in that wreck there.  I cut the right-front tire down on the restart and plowed into a couple of them.  We got it fixed and I was glad we were able to come back.  I would have liked a caution to see what we could have done, but the thing was killed.  That’s a big Dent Wizard car for sure, but I’m just glad we were able to salvage a decent day.  It could have been a lot worse.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 12th: “We worked hard during practice on Friday and made a few changes to the initial setup of our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet that Luke Lambert and the guys had success with in the past at Bristol Motor Speedway. I feel like that effort on Friday really helped us on Saturday during the race when the top of the racetrack came in, especially in Turns 3 and 4. At the start of the race, we rolled by a couple of cars and thought we’d be okay but as soon as we got in clean air our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet was way too loose, which made it hard to make speed on the bottom. We worked all night to get our Chevy tightened up and the handling would come to me if we could get a heat cycle on the tires. The race pace was so fast that it was a challenge to stay on the lead lap, but we had some things fall our way from time to time to get the free pass. If I had another corner or two, I think I could have passed the No. 6 car for 11th, but I’m just proud of everyone on the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet team for never giving up and bringing home the finish that we did.”

Joey Logano — finished 16th: “It was a tough night for our Shell-Pennzoil team. We started the race tight and then we had the right-front tire go down. We were able get back on the lead lap and kept making adjustments to get better. But once we got the damage late in the race, that pretty much sealed our fate.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 19th: “After the first incident, it was just too hard to make up ground after that. We just had so much damage. To come back 19th is respectable. The other part is that we had to get off strategy because we lost two laps. So, the first two-thirds of the race, we were running old tires against the field a lot of the time trying to get laps back. It was just one of those nights. Qualifying put us in that spot. A better qualifying effort would have had us in a much better position. I wouldn’t have been there when the 3 blew his tire and life would be totally different.

“(You seem like you’re in good spirits) For as beat up as that car is and the runs we did on old tires, we had a good night and just a lot of bad luck. I have to look at the truth inside of this team and how strong this team is, how good this team is. I know the results are coming, it’s just a series of bad luck and it all started with a bad qualifying effort. We have to clean things up for sure. This team is really starting to gel and come along. … (Is it pretty much win or else now?) I’ve got one more shot. I don’t know, it’s so hard to predict. These are two great tracks for me, two places that I love. We’ll see what happens.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 33rd: “It was a bummer of weekend, but at least we put ourselves in the top 10 towards the end of the race and it just didn’t work out. … (How devastated are you?) I didn’t feel like we were gonna win anyway, so I’m not super-bummed, I’m just more bummed that our car wasn’t better.  We struggled all weekend for speed.  We got closer when the top came in, but we still weren’t capable of going up and leading the race and running up front, I didn’t feel like.  I thought about 10th-place was as good as we could be tonight and we were doing that and that’s where we needed to be from what we had.  It’s a bummer to have it end that way, but I didn’t feel like we had a shot at the win.  I’m not as bummed as I thought I would be. … It’s just racing.  They got together and I was already committed to the outside of the 12.  They made contact, but I didn’t think it was gonna blow his right-front that quick.  Unfortunately, it did and trapped us between the wall.”

Austin Dillon — finished 34th: “I thought we did a good job with the balance of our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 so I’m not sure why we cut a tire. The balance of the race car was better than anything else we’ve had. It was early in Stage 1 and I didn’t really have much warning. We started to get tight off of the corners but the right-front tire went down really suddenly at the start finish line and I just tried to hold on. We might have been able to save it if the No. 48 car didn’t hit my rear but he just had so much momentum going and it was all over at that point. We scraped the wall with the right-side of our Chevy pretty bad and spent the rest of Stage 1 and the majority of Stage 2 in the garage making repairs to the suspension. That basically ruined our day but this Richard Childress Racing team never gives up so we went back out and finished the race, albeit multiple laps down. I hate that we couldn’t be more in contention today for Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Off Road and our friend Johnny Morris.”

David Ragan – finished 36th: “I saw Blaney cut a tire just past the start-finish line and I knew he was gonna run up and hit the wall, and I started trying to slow down.  I was already committed to running the top and that happens in a fraction of a second and I got off the gas and hit the brakes, tried to go low, but as they bounced off the wall they came back down the track a little bit and just knocked the radiator out.  That’s racing at Bristol.  That’s short track racing.  We had a solid run.  I felt like we had a top 15 to top 20 car.  We made some good adjustments throughout the night and it’s just one of those things.  That’s kind of the way short track racing goes.

“(How was the racing?) It was great.  I felt like the bottom groove was still really good for some cars.  Our car wasn’t that great on the bottom, but our Mustang was really fast up top.  I felt like the second stage we had a top 12 or 14 car because it was rubbered up a lot up top, and I think the top has kind of evened out some.  It’s a great race.  Bristol is a great track and it’s gonna be a good finish. I wish we were gonna be out there.”

Michael McDowell – finished 37th: “There’s always a lot going on at Bristol and a lot happening at one time.  The top was pretty much the dominant line.  It’s hard to pass, so guys were aggressive in making moves.  There at the end it looked like maybe the 12 blew a right-front tire.  Somebody blew a tire and they all slid up, and it’s Bristol you check up and you kind of all wash up into the same spot.  I saw my teammate try to dive low to miss it and just caught it and when he caught it, I just ran right in the back of him.  It’s unfortunate for everybody at Front Row Motorsports – lost two cars in that accident and not really anything of our own doing, just wrong place wrong time.  It’s unfortunate for the Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang and for David (Ragan) – not his last Bristol race, but this was an important race for him and I hate it for him.”

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Driver intro songs for the Bristol night race

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Here are the songs Cup Series drivers were introduced with before tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In order from last to first place.

Ross Chastain – “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd

Kyle Weatherman – “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor

Reed Sorenson – “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles

JJ Yeley – “Raining Blood” by Slayer

Josh Bilicki – “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

Quin Houff – “Levels” by Avicii

BJ McLeod – “Fuel” by Metallica

Landon Cassill – “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys

Kyle Busch – “Lights Come On” by Jason Aldean

Jimmie Johnson – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica

Chris Buescher – “Evil Like You” by Red Sun Rising

Michael McDowell – “The Floor is Lava” by Blake Rules and Netherfriends

Matt Tifft – “Cleveland Rocks” by The President of the United States of America

Corey LaJoie – “Brand New Man” by Brooks & Dunn with Luke Combs

Paul Menard – “Baby Shark” by Leo Moracchioli

Ty Dillon – “Gold” by Imagine Dragons

Ryan Preece – “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Mötley Crüe

Bubba Wallace – “Into Despair” by Currents

William Byron – “Fortunate Sun” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Clint Bowyer – “God’s Country” by Blake Shelton

Austin Dillon – “Cowboy Baby” by Kid Rock

Daniel Suarez – “El Mariachi Loco”

Daniel Hemric – “Lose Yourself” by Eminem

David Ragan – “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Anna Kendrick

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Ain’t No Grave” by Johnny Cash

Ryan Newman – “These Are My People” by Rodney Atkins

Brad Keselowski – “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

Ryan Blaney – “Living the Dream” by Sturgill Simpson

Joey Logano – “Circle of Life” by Elton John

Alex Bowman – “Bow Down” by I Prevail

Erik Jones – “The One I Loved Back Then” by George Jones

Kevin Harvick – “The Git Up” by Blanco Brown

Matt DiBenedetto – “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti (song made famous by the movie “Rocky”)

Chase Elliott – “Beer Never Broke My Heart” by Luke Combs

Aric Almirola – “Give Me the Green Light” by Pit Bull

Kurt Busch – “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

Martin Truex Jr. – “Drinkin’ Hours” by Cole Swindell

Kyle Larson – “Money in the Grave” by Drake

Denny Hamlin – “Some of It” by Eric Church

 

NASCAR reflects on its constant air travel in wake of Dale Jr. crash

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – As his plane began a descent into the Tri-Cities Regional Airport, David Ragan buckled his seat belt.

For a NASCAR driver, that would seem to be second nature after making a living out of driving at 200 mph.

It was a point that reinforced by the terrifying plane crash Thursday involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family.

“Because you get in that habit where you sit down, and you don’t buckle up, you’re already pulling out your phone looking at it,” Ragan told NBCSports.com Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway. “It’s a shame that situations like that do have to happen in order to be reminded. We’re very grateful that Dale and his family were safe, but that will be a good reminder for all of us.”

The NASCAR community unfortunately needs few reminders about the realities of aviation tragedies. On April 1, 1993, defending Cup series champion Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash on approach to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tennessee. A few months later, Davey Allison was killed after suffering head injuries in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

On Oct. 23, 2004, 10 people were killed when a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into a Virginia mountain en route to Martinsville Speedway (among the dead were team owner Rick Hendrick’s brother, son and nieces, as well as head engine builder Randy Dorton). Team owner and pilot Jack Roush also has survived two plane crashes, including a 2010 incident that robbed him of vision in his left eye.

With a 10-month, 36-race schedule, NASCAR drivers and teams are constantly in the skies traveling, and Thursday’s crash drove home that reality and the opportunity for reflection.

“As you put it all into perspective and you really realize the amount of time that you spend in an airplane and all the places that you go and things that you do and the amount of time that is required to travel, it’s definitely a reminder of things that can happen,” Kevin Harvick said. “But just thank God everybody is OK because you look at the pictures and all the things that went on, it’s amazing that everybody is OK and, in the end, that’s the best part of that scenario.  There’s really no good part of it other than everybody is OK.”

Ragan, who announced Wednesday that 2019 will be his final full-time season in the Cup Series, said “we take for granted how much of a risk we do take every week flying into small airports on small airplanes. We hop in late at night, and we leave. That is something that the sport is just accustomed to, and accidents do happen.

“Accidents happen on the roadways, in the garage area, on the racetrack and certainly on the transportation side, but (Thursday’s crash) just reminds me that you need to be grateful for every situation like that. That there are some serious situations that when accidents do happen, you need to be prepared.”

Kurt Busch said Earnhardt’s motorhome was parked next to his in the Bristol lot, and he watched Earnhardt leaving last night for home as he arrived.

“I was glad that he, his family and the pilots are OK; it’s a tough situation,” Busch said. “We all travel quite a bit and it was just tough to read about it. I’m sure the facts will start to unfold for us to figure out what happened, and I’m just glad he’s OK.

“We will miss him this weekend. I think it’s best for him to be at home. His motorhome was parked next to mine and they were leaving last night as we were pulling in. It’s just tough when you’re missing a good friend from the racetrack.”

Said Clint Bowyer: “It takes your breath away. Those are people that are our friends, family of NASCAR. When you see them in trouble like that, you see the video, that hits home, man. … That’s how we travel. (Earnhardt’s dog) Gus comes out of that thing. I can see Trip (Bowyer’s dog) in the same and my wife. I just couldn’t imagine. You really can’t put yourself in that situation. It was very, very scary for all of us to be bale to watch that and have to watch that.”

Martin Truex Jr., who was given the break by Earnhardt that led to his two Xfinity Series championships and is one the 15-time most popular driver’s closest friends on the circuits, said it was “surreal” to hear the news of the crash.

“I talked to Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) last night, yesterday on the way before coming here and just happy that everyone is OK,” he said. “It’s really a blessing. They’re like family to me. It was definitely scary. I can’t imagine the thoughts that went through their head and what they’re thinking right now, but just glad that everybody is OK. For us, airplane-wise, safety is always the No. 1 concern, and we don’t take any chances. I guess you just never know how things can play out.”

The plane crash has a little more meaning for Kyle Busch, who has the same plane as Earnhardt, a Citation Latitude, which is serviced by his Truck Series sponsors, Cessna and Textron Aviation

Busch learned about the crash from his own pilot.

“As soon as he said, ‘Junior’s plane went down’ my heart just dropped,” Busch said. “My first thing was, ‘Well, are there any survivors?’ Because you don’t know any of the details, originally, then a lot more of the details start coming out and you start hearing things. It’s a scary situation, you know?

“I know Junior’s had his pilots for a long, long time. I don’t know any of the details passed what you guys all know because I haven’t spoken to anybody. Everybody has procedures and protocol and things like that, and I feel like Cessna and Textron Aviation, those guys do an amazing job. They actually help me manage my aircraft. … It’s been a fantastic aircraft to get me from Point A to Point B, and it’s always been there for us and it’s done a phenomenal job. … My wife (Samantha) is in the air right now flying her way here on the plane and hopefully everything goes well and everything’s normal on that end.”